Like many adoptive parents, I frequently think about the whole “nurture vs. nature” conundrum. When all is said and done, how much will we be able to influence our children and the choices they make … and how much is genetically predetermined? Will they be forced to pay with their own lives the tab for the choices their first parents made?
According to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, children raised by parents with substance abuse issues are in the “highest risk group” of those who will themselves become addicted. Even if these children are placed in other families through adoption or foster care, they are between two and nine times more likely to become addicted than their peers.
I asked the counselor if this means we should clear out any and all alcohol from our shelves, to which she replied, “Well … that is one approach. However, it is also possible that it could be a good thing for them to see a model of responsible alcohol use.”
Beautiful Boy gave me some insights about addiction that parents of adopted children (perhaps especially those from the foster care system) do well to keep in mind. While it comes from a unabashedly secular POV (the author equates God with conscience on p.154), he also recognizes the futility of trying to control the uncontrollable, whether the toxic impulses are our own or our children’s.
This inability to prevent one’s children from destroying themselves is a sobering thought, one that is absolutely counter-intuitive for most parents. Nor is it exclusively the realm of substance addiction. There is a sickness of spirit, a woundedness of the will, that can take hold of a child in any number of forms. The daughter caught in the violent cycle of domestic abuse, the son addicted to porn, the teenager who struggles with bulimia or anorexia. In some cases, even religion can become an addiction when the ritual becomes a compulsion devoid of relationship. Sheff writes:
“More than anything, parents want to know at what point a child is no longer experimenting, no longer a typical teenager, no longer going through a phase or a rite of passage. Since it’s unanswerable, I have concluded that I would err on the side of caution and intervene earlier rather than later — not waiting until a child is wantonly endangering himself or others. Looking back, I wish I had forced [son] Nic — when he was young enough so that legally I could have forced him — into a long-term program of rehabilitation. Sending a child — or adult, for that matter — to rehab before he is ready and able to understand the principles of recovery may not prevent relapse, but from what I’ve seen it cannot hurt and may help. In addition, a period of forced abstinence during the formative teenage years is better than that same time spent on drugs. Forced treatment in a good program accomplishes at least one immediate goal: It keeps a child off drugs for the time he is in treatment. Since the less someone uses, the easier it is to stop, the longer he is in treatment the better” (p.312).
As for me, right now, my job is to love my children, model integrity and consistency, and pray that God will give us all the “serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”